Aerosol therapy in intensive and intermediate care units: prospective observation of 2808 critically ill patients

Intensive Care Med. 2016 Feb;42(2):192-201. doi: 10.1007/s00134-015-4114-5. Epub 2015 Nov 24.


Purpose: Unlike in the outpatient setting, delivery of aerosols to critically ill patients may be considered complex, particularly in ventilated patients, and benefits remain to be proven. Many factors influence aerosol delivery and recommendations exist, but little is known about knowledge translation into clinical practice.

Methods: Two-week cross-sectional study to assess the prevalence of aerosol therapy in 81 intensive and intermediate care units in 22 countries. All aerosols delivered to patients breathing spontaneously, ventilated invasively or noninvasively (NIV) were recorded, and drugs, devices, ventilator settings, circuit set-up, humidification and side effects were noted.

Results: A total of 9714 aerosols were administered to 678 of the 2808 admitted patients (24 %, CI95 22-26 %), whereas only 271 patients (10 %) were taking inhaled medication before admission. There were large variations among centers, from 0 to 57 %. Among intubated patients 22 % (n = 262) received aerosols, and 50 % (n = 149) of patients undergoing NIV, predominantly (75 %) inbetween NIV sessions. Bronchodilators (n = 7960) and corticosteroids (n = 1233) were the most frequently delivered drugs (88 % overall), predominantly but not exclusively (49 %) administered to patients with chronic airway disease. An anti-infectious drug was aerosolized 509 times (5 % of all aerosols) for nosocomial infections. Jet-nebulizers were the most frequently used device (56 %), followed by metered dose inhalers (23 %). Only 106 (<1 %) mild side effects were observed, despite frequent suboptimal set-ups such as an external gas supply of jet nebulizers for intubated patients.

Conclusions: Aerosol therapy concerns every fourth critically ill patient and one-fifth of ventilated patients.

Keywords: Administration, inhalation [MeSH]; Anti-bacterial agents [MeSH]; Bronchodilator agents [MeSH]; Metered dose inhalers [MeSH]; Nebulizers and vaporizers [MeSH]; Respiration, artificial [MeSH].

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation*
  • Adult
  • Aerosols / administration & dosage*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*


  • Aerosols
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents